Fantasy owners are always on the lookout for sleepers and busts. Remember, a big to key winning your league is finding the best value with your draft picks. Landing a star in the later rounds can give your lineup a boost or become a trade chip to land an elite player. Meanwhile, dodging a highly ranked player in the preseason who fails to live up to expectations can put you in better situations as the season progresses.
So, we're back to update our sleeper and bust picks for the 2013 fantasy football season. We originally published our list back in June when our draft kit first launched. However, plenty of things have changed since then, whether it be injuries, surprising performances in training camp and/or preseason games, shifting coaching philosophies, or other news. Some of our analysts have overhauled their sleepers and busts; others stayed the same.
For the purposes of this exercise, our sleepers are players not likely to be drafted as a starting option in ESPN standard leagues, according to our consensus preseason rankings, but who could be solid contributors or even become superstars this season. Conversely, most of our busts are players likely drafted as starting options, according to our consensus preseason rankings, but who could fail to live up to expectations.
Our analysts (Matthew Berry, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Shawn Cwalinski, Ken Daube, Christopher Harris, Dave Hunter, KC Joyner, Eric Karabell, Keith Lipscomb, AJ Mass, Jim McCormick, James Quintong and Field Yates) were asked to provide one sleeper candidate and one bust candidate each at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end. They then offered up analysis of some of their choices.
Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals: Palmer posted 16 or more points in eight games last year. That per-game scoring pace is roughly the productivity level one seeks in a starting fantasy quarterback, and Palmer tallied those numbers on an Oakland Raiders offense that had across-the-board pass-game personnel issues. He now joins an offense with a vertically inclined play-caller in Bruce Arians and a top-flight caliber wideout in Larry Fitzgerald. The schedule will preclude Palmer from being a QB1, but he will provide a strong spot-start/QB2 option for what likely will be an incredibly low draft-day price. (KC Joyner)
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins: Expectations for Tannehill won't be too high this season, but adding the young quarterback as your No. 2 or bye week fill-in is a decent risk. Tannehill should cut down on his turnovers with a year of seasoning and added maturity under his belt, and the addition of Mike Wallace will give him a more permanent downfield passing option. (Dave Hunter)
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers: The loss of his best wideout in Michael Crabtree, along with an already-thin depth chart at the position, could make Kaepernick's first full season as the starter a bit more trying than his sensational first run through the league. I could still see some strong numbers emerge when you add up the ground production and dangerous playmaking ability, but given how amazingly deep quarterback is, I find it difficult to endorse Kaepernick as a top-eight option when guys such as Andrew Luck, Tony Romo and Russell Wilson have more fertile statistical situations with similar -- or quite a bit lower -- price tags. (Jim McCormick)
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: I'm not saying Manning is a bad pick, but his value in fantasy is his relentless year-over-year consistency, not his ability to win you ballgames on his own. The problem, however, is that he's going to cost you the price of the latter; and, in a year like this, rich in quarterback depth, that is not a smart buy. Manning is 37 years old and had two sub-15-point fantasy games in his final four last season; it's fair to wonder whether the age curve has sapped him of any future upside. (Tristan H. Cockcroft)
Justin Forsett, Jacksonville Jaguars: Remember when he once entered the season ranked near the top 20 among running backs? He's not there now, but he did average 5.9 yards a carry as a backup for the Houston Texans last year, and he's familiar with the zone-blocking scheme the Jaguars are looking to employ. With Maurice Jones-Drew still recovering from a foot injury, Forsett could be in line for chances and actually thrive, at least in short bursts. (James Quintong)
Joseph Randle, Dallas Cowboys: A highly productive collegiate career, soft hands and a nose for the end zone are just a few of the positives you'll find on Randle's scouting report. The most promising element for Randle's rookie season in Dallas, however, has less to do with his skill set and everything to do with the fragile back ahead of him on the depth chart, DeMarco Murray. Given Murray's issues staying on the field, the potential for Randle to earn a handful of 2013 starts, if not more, is pretty high here. (McCormick)
Daryl Richardson, St. Louis Rams: As noted in my recent article on the 10 most undervalued running backs, Richardson does a superb job of gaining yards when given good blocking. Add that to his 36 targets in part-time play last year and his currently being listed as the Rams' No. 1 back and it makes him the best candidate to possibly replicate Alfred Morris' come-out-of-nowhere dominant 2012 season. (Joyner)
Danny Woodhead, San Diego Chargers: Did you know that Woodhead had more fantasy points and a higher yards-per-carry mark than Ryan Mathews last season? Woodhead also had 194 more receiving yards on one more reception. Woodhead did all that with a top-10 fantasy back starting ahead of him; Mathews is not a top-10 fantasy RB. Woodhead might not be worth starting at RB every week, but he is at least a solid flex consideration. (Shawn Cwalinski)
Montee Ball, Denver Broncos: The ESPN.com NFL draft profile for Ball includes these comments about his blocking ability: swings and misses a bit too often ... doesn't anchor well ... an average cut blocker. Ball must overcome those negatives to be the clear starter for the Broncos, who won't put Peyton Manning's health in the hands of a rookie running back who is lacking in pass protection. (Ken Daube)
C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills: Doug Marrone certainly is talking up Spiller as Buffalo's lead back. In an offense that won't shy away from the ground game, there's every reason to be excited about a guy who was pigeonholed into being used only as a "role player" in the past. That said, I think the hype needle has gone too far in the other direction and Marrone is just as likely to use Fred Jackson for quarters at a time. (AJ Mass)
David Wilson, New York Giants: Talent didn't limit Wilson to 75 carries as a rookie in 2012; reliability issues and veterans ahead of him on the depth chart did. And, although he's the leading candidate to start for the Giants this season, we all know Tom Coughlin has little tolerance for missed assignments as a pass-blocker and fumbles. If Wilson has issues with either thing early (which he did last year), it wouldn't come as a surprise to see his role decrease. Also, Andre Brown likely will get the bulk of the goal-line carries, as he did last season. (Field Yates)
Justin Blackmon, Jacksonville Jaguars: I completely understand the perceived value impact of Blackmon's suspension to start the season, but it shouldn't scare you. You can easily draft Blackmon as your fourth or fifth wide receiver, which means there's almost no chance you'd plan on playing him until bye weeks roll around anyway. He'll be back and well rested by then, which gives you a wide receiver with top-15 upside and virtually no downside. (Daube)
Vincent Brown, San Diego Chargers: I kept waiting for Brown to get healthy last season and it didn't happen, but he's been lining up with the first team on occasion this summer, a nod to his tremendous upside and clear health. Brown showed glimpses of his exceptional ability in 2011, and the broken ankle cost him 2012. Don't forget his name later in drafts, for there's room for a new No. 1 target to emerge. (Karabell)
Julian Edelman, New England Patriots: Someone has to catch all those passes from Tom Brady, and, although Edelman was missing from action to start training camp, he has returned and already looks up to speed coming off of a foot injury. Creativity has long been a staple of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' résumé, and look for him to find ways to manufacture touches for talented but injury-prone Edelman. Whether it's replicating some of what Wes Welker did (which Danny Amendola will be counted on to do, too), taking carries from the backfield or even working on the perimeter as a receiver, Edelman is in line for his biggest pro season yet. We're hedging our bets on his health, but the possible return is too savory to ignore. (Yates)
Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears: Part of this is that I'm simply not a believer that Brandon Marshall can eat as large a slice of the Bears' receiving pie as he did last year; at 41 percent, Marshall's targets-per-route ratio last year was the highest of any receiver in the past four seasons. The rest is that Jeffery is more than talented enough to be a viable No. 2 NFL wideout, having averaged 15.3 yards per catch in limited time in 2012. I think he could realize borderline WR2/3 potential -- if he can just stay healthy. (Cockcroft)
Danny Amendola, New England Patriots: Yes, he's inheriting the Wes Welker go-to receiver role in the offense, but he's no Wes Welker. He definitely will catch his share of balls, but his seven career TDs in four years and the fact that he has missed 20 of 32 games the past two years don't inspire confidence as a No. 2 WR. (Keith Lipscomb)
Mike Wallace, Miami Dolphins: Because of the big contract and Ryan Tannehill's solid completion numbers on deep balls (37 percent, eighth-best among QBs with at least 35 attempts of 21 yards or greater), I know some people are expecting big things in Florida this year. I'm not one of them. Too inconsistent for me. He had seven games last year with five or fewer fantasy points, including four games with zero or one point. Going from Big Ben to Tannehill is a downgrade, and, when your yardage goes from 1,257 to 1,193 to just 836, you're heading in the wrong direction. Wallace is not a top-20 WR. (Matthew Berry)
Wes Welker, Denver Broncos: Let me paint you a picture. The great Welker -- who has the NFL's most catches over the past six years -- comes to Denver and continues to play well out of the slot. But the workload isn't quite there; with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker around, Peyton Manning relies less on Welker's middle-of-the-field brilliance than Brady did in New England. Instead of 11 targets per game, now Welker sees eight. Instead of 18 red zone targets in a season, he gets 10. As a result, instead of his standard 1,300-yard, seven-TD season, Welker puts up a perfectly reasonable 80 catches, 1,100 yards and five TDs. But instead of being a borderline top-10 WR, now he's borderline top 20 and not worth his average draft position. (Christopher Harris)
Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns: Cameron has all of 26 catches in two NFL seasons, so he's far from a sure thing. But the pieces add up. He's big and athletic, and his new play-callers are Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner, who've spent their NFL lives turning their tight ends into fantasy stars. Relying on Brandon Weeden might be a sucker bet, but, in a deeper league, I like the idea of drafting Cameron late. (Harris)
Fred Davis, Washington Redskins: Don't listen to anyone who says Davis and RG III didn't have chemistry last year. Through the first six weeks of the 2012 season, Davis averaged 52 receiving yards per game. Since Tony Gonzalez averaged just 60 receiving yards per game over the entire season, did he have lousy chemistry, too? Of course not. The chemistry misconception is caused by the abnormality of Davis not having any touchdowns. That's not going to repeat; take advantage of the undervaluing of Davis on draft day. (Daube)
Rob Housler, Arizona Cardinals: I've just always liked him from a skill stand point. He's 6-foot-5 and athletic, moving fast for a big guy. His problem, of course, is that he has never had a quarterback. Now he does in Carson Palmer, who last year targeted Brandon Myers 105 times, the fourth-most targets by a tight end. If you decide to wait on tight end, a flier at the end of your draft on Housler could pay big dividends. (Berry)
Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs: I loved Kelce at the University of Cincinnati. He has the size and tenacity to take any reception and turn it into a huge payday. We all know Andy Reid's offense doesn't shy away from getting the tight end involved (Brent Celek, anyone?). Plus, Kelce is athletic enough to line up at wide receiver from time to time, as well as jump in as a Wildcat option under center should the mood strike. (Mass)
Martellus Bennett, Chicago Bears: Last year, Bennett was on a New York Giants offense that does a fantastic job of getting maximum performance from its tight ends and he still managed to post only 86 fantasy points (tied for 13th). Now he goes to an offense that is hoping it can turn around a long history of getting subpar performances out of its tight ends. There are too many fantasy tight end prospects who are just as talented and have better situations to consider Bennett a potential starter. (Joyner)
Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings: The talent is definitely there, but the consistency is not. Although the nine touchdowns last year were nice, he also had three games with no receptions and seven games with two or fewer points. With Greg Jennings around to catch more passes, and Adrian Peterson doing his thing at the goal line, can Rudolph continue to be a red zone/TD factor, especially with the quarterback situation still less than optimal? (Quintong)
Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys: Is it a coincidence that Witten's TD production has gone down each season since 2010 and wide receiver Dez Bryant's has gone up? With increased looks toward Bryant and fewer red zone targets for Witten, expect much of the same: good yardage totals with limited TDs. Use the draft slot where Witten would normally go on another RB or WR, and wait for a better value a few rounds later. (Hunter)